Count My Vote director infuriated by ‘dirty, deceptive’ robocall asking people to remove names from its initiative petition

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Some who came to the Count My Vote public hearing at the Whitmore Library in Cottonwood Heights brought signs voicing their displeasure with the Count My Vote ballot initiative seeking to select party nominees through a direct primary, and totally eliminate the traditional caucus-convention system, Friday, Oct. 27, 2017.

Taylor Morgan, executive director of the Count My Vote ballot initiative campaign, was surprised and then infuriated by a robocall he received late Thursday.

A recording of it says officials of his group “are facing criminal charges for forging signatures. You might be surprised to hear your signature appeared on their petition. Not only were hundreds of signatures forged, but most citizens feel they were deceived when they signed the Count My Vote petition.”

The automated message goes on to conduct a survey about whether signature gatherers were honest with him and if he actually signed the petition — all in an effort to persuade him to remove his signature from the initiative to help keep it off the ballot.

Morgan, of course, signed the initiative with full knowledge of its contents. He says the Keep My Voice opposition group is being dishonest and misleading in its claims.

“This is exactly why people don’t like politics: It’s dirty and deceptive tricks,” he said.

Keep My Voice, though, defends the robocalls as truthful and counters that Count My Vote is the one that has been deceptive.

Each group accusesthe other of breaking election law.

The acrimonious dispute plays out as Count My Vote is pushing a ballot initiative to cement in place a 2014 law that allows candidates to qualify for the ballot through the caucus-convention system and/or by collecting signatures. The group says this dual track gives voters more choice.

The opposition Keep My Voice organization wants to return to the old system in which the caucus-convention route was the only way for a candidate to reach a primary or general election ballot. It failed to gather enough signatures to put its own initiative on the ballot, so it is urging people to remove signatures from Count My Vote petitions.

County clerks statewide have validated enough signatures to put the Count My Vote proposal on the Nov. 6 ballot. It had to collect signatures equal to 10 percent of the votes cast in the last presidential election, and do that in 26 of Utah’s 29 state Senate districts.

Keep My Voice now is trying to persuade signers to withdraw their names from petitions, as allowed by law, before the state’s May 15 deadline.

“What is significant is [Keep My Voice supporters] are calling people whose signatures have been verified as valid by county election officials, alleging their signatures may have been forged,” Morgan said.

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) Taylor Morgan of Count My Vote spoke at the Count My Vote public hearing at the Whitmore Library in Cottonwood Heights, Friday, Oct. 27, 2017.

“So to call a signer whose signature has been verified as valid and allege that their signature may have been forged, they are just straight-up lying to the voters.”

Dave Bateman, CEO of the Entrata software company who is bankrolling most of Keep My Voice’s efforts, contends, “We’re finding the vast majority of people who signed the Count My Vote petition were misled, and in some cases even lied to or had their signatures forged.”

The group originally didn’t intend to make robocalls to all signers, and went door-to-door asking people to rescind signatures. But Bateman says so many reported never signing or signing only other petitions — such as to put Mitt Romney on the ballot — that Keep My Voice figured problems were widespread.

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dave Bateman, Entrata CEO, speaks in the opening session to over 14,000 at the 2018 Silicon Slopes Tech Summit at the Salt Lake Convention Center, Thursday, Jan. 18.

Some 665 responses to the group’s robocall surveys show 34 percent say they never signed any petition and 8 percent say they were misled by signature gatherers, said Bateman. Another 31 percent don’t remember signing anything and only 27 percent say they intended to sign.

“Based off what we found, we feel like there is verifiable, widespread criminal activity that took place with this — communications fraud at the least, if not forgery,” he said.

The robocall asserts that Count My Vote officials are facing criminal charges. That is not accurate. Two employees of a contractor, called Gather, were charged in Weber County for forging 472 signatures on the Count My Vote and Utah Medical Cannabis petitions.

Morgan said that shows that the system works, and county officials catch forgery when it occurs, adding, “To cherry pick one case and scare voters statewide is dishonest.” But Bateman said the case shows forgery did happen.

Morgan said Keep My Voice broke state and federal law by not disclosing that it was behind the robocall, and no such disclosure is on the recording he provided.

Bateman said that a later unrecorded part of the robocall (after signers are polled about their experience) tells people to visit KeepMyVoice.org for information about how to remove their signatures. “So there was no attempt at anonymity at all.” He also contends the group was not required to disclose that it was paying for the calls.

Despite the remove-signatures drive, Morgan said Count My Vote is “very confident we will be on the ballot.”

While Bateman said his group is “getting a lot of removals,” he won’t predict whether that will be enough to block the initiative.

Gov. Gary Herbert has criticized ongoing campaigns to remove signatures from the Count My Vote and the medical marijuana initiatives. Although he supports the former, he opposes the latter.

Nevertheless, he said. “Let’s have the vote. Let’s have the debate. I think it’s good to have the people’s voice heard.”